JACKSON, Miss. – Two weeks into a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, city officials say they do not know how many residents are still without water or when water will be restored.
Public Works Director Charles Williams on Tuesday said there are still pockets of homes in south Jackson’s high-elevation areas without water, but could not share a total number of outages.
He said water pressure at the city’s treatment plant was gradually being restored, but a firm date for restoration of the system remains elusive.
For more than two weeks now, residents in the city of 160,000 have been warned to boil any water that does come out of kitchen taps before using it.
Williams previously said he was hopeful the system would be up to speed by Feb. 26, the weekend after the city first reported a water shortage on Feb. 17.
Instead, he said the prolonged freezing temperatures from a series of winter storm systems crippled a system unequipped to deal with the temperature drop.
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More than 100 water breaks reported
The system is still not putting out enough water pressure to service its over 43,000 customers. That has been complicated by water main breaks across the city that have leaked water into city streets and yards. Since the city first reported a water shortage, over 100 total water breaks have been reported. As of Monday night, crews had completed 53 repairs, he said.
Williams said on Tuesday it’s possible a large water main break that has not been reported is also siphoning water from the city’s water supply.
“A hard number is difficult to track,” Williams said of the number of water outages. “We would have to go door-to-door to know precisely where all the outages are.”
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Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has also been been hesitant to give a firm date for recovery of the water system.
The city has been tracking outages through reports from residents and its 311 hotline. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Michelle Atoa said as of Tuesday afternoon the hotline had received over 1,500 water outage calls since the beginning of the water crisis on Feb. 15, but she was also unable to provide a hard number of residence outages, or an estimate.
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The mayor’s office in an email said it had crews out Tuesday in south Jackson neighborhoods and in higher elevated areas of the city where residents are still experiencing outages. The crews are testing pressure levels and releasing trapped air from hydrants that may be impeding flow.
Seven distribution sites for non-potable water remain open across the city, and the city is also delivering bottled water to elderly and homebound residents.
Hoping to stem a future crisis, the Jackson City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to send a 1% sales tax proposal to the state Legislature. If approved, Jacksonians will again vote to pay an additional 1% in tax that will go to water and sewer system maintenance and upgrades.
Lumumba has said the city faces a $2 billion infrastructure shortfall. Nearly half of that amount stems from a federal consent decree on the city that mandates improvements to its sewer collection and distribution system which the EPA says is in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Contributing: Jeff Martin and Leah Willingham, Associated Press
Follow reporter Justin Vicory on Twitter: @justinvicory
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